It wasn’t that long ago the Dixon High School girls golf team was essentially a one-player operation.
That player was Olivia Pultorak, a three-time state qualifier who graduated in 2017. In the fall of 2016, she tied for eighth place at the Class 1A state tournament at Red Tail Run in Decatur – a finish that stands as the best-ever finish by a Duchesses golfer.
Along for the ride that season was Charlotte McCoy, then a freshman in the infancy of learning how to play golf.
“It was very nerve-wracking, just being next to her, because she was so good and I was kind of just starting out,” said McCoy, now a senior. “My average at the beginning was not good at all. It did help because it had me looking at things, like I could eventually do that if I worked hard at it.”
Help was soon on the way. In McCoy’s sophomore year, three freshmen (Bella Heintzelman, Olivia Rick and Nina Baratta) came on board, and Dixon has had a full girls team ever since.
By the fall of 2018, the Duchesses had progressed to the point where head coach Lee Eastman thought big things were possible. Alas, the Freeport Aquin Sectional at Park Hills West proved to be mostly a learning experience.
“I could see the swings were there, they’re a tough group, and they love the game,” Eastman said. “I really thought by their sophomore year they could get to state. We came up short. We got seventh at sectional, and I was a little disappointed.”
Heintzelman did make it to state individually, and she ended up tied for 31st place with a two-round total of 168.
In 2019, the Duchesses were not denied when it came to an extended postseason run. At the Eastland Regional on Oct. 11 at Lake Carroll, Dixon earned top honors with a 410 score, well ahead of runner-up Eastland, which had 432.
At the Oregon Sectional on Monday, the Duchesses needed to step up their game against a higher level of competition. They were able to do that, to the tune of a 380 team score, good for third place behind Chicago Latin (346) and St. Viator (351), and one ahead of Nazareth Academy, which wound up at 381.
The four counting scores came from Heintzelman (86), Rick (90), McCoy (100) and Baratta (104). Only Rick, who averaged about 47 strokes per nine holes in the regular season, went lower than her average.
Rick’s day did not get off to a promising start.
“My back has been a little screwed up the past few days, and I couldn’t really hit on the range,” Rick said. “I was just thinking to myself, ‘I’m not going to play like this today. My team needs me.’ The first tee, my shot was good. The second shot, I pulled it a little bit, but then I got on the green in three and was able to two-putt for bogey. I basically just played bogey golf the whole day.”
After players completed their rounds, scores were tabulated by meet officials, checked and re-checked, and finally it became official – the Duchesses had punched their tickets to state.
“When we found out, I was so excited,” Heintzelman said. “Honestly, it’s a lot better going with your team than individually. You’re with your team. Everyone’s going to be so pumped up in the morning. This has been our goal the whole season, and I’m just so glad we achieved that goal.”
This will mark the sixth time in school history Dixon will send a girls team to the state golf tournament. The Duchesses’ previous best finishes were third in 1980 and seventh in 1983.
Heintzelman is the lone player with tournament experience at Red Tail Run. The whole team will play a practice round on Thursday, then it will be time to tee it up for good on Friday morning.
“I love Decatur,” Heintzelman said. “Last year, it was such a fun experience. I love the layout of the course, and I love their greens. It’s going to be a fun time.”